FILE – In this Aug. 7, 2018, file photo, Southern Resident killer whale J50 and her mother, J16, swim off the west coast of Vancouver Island near Port Renfrew, B.C. Nearly two months after an international team of experts began taking extraordinary measures to save the young sick orca, the critically endangered whale is skinnier than ever. Now NOAA Fisheries and its partners are weighing whether to intervene further to help the orca known as J50. (Brian Gisborne/Fisheries and Oceans Canada via AP, file)
FILE – In this Aug. 7, 2018, file photo, Southern Resident killer whale J50 and her mother, J16, swim off the west coast of Vancouver Island near Port Renfrew, B.C. Teams searched Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, for the sick, critically endangered orca in the waters of Washington state and Canada, but a scientist who closely tracks the population in the Pacific Northwest said he believes the whale, known as J50, has died. (Brian Gisborne/Fisheries and Oceans Canada via AP, file)
The gallery will resume inseconds
FILE – In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, an endangered southern resident female orca leaps from the water while breaching in Puget Sound, west of Seattle. With the Pacific Northwest's killer whales struggling, an environmental group is suing to force President Donald Trump's administration to expand protected habitat in an effort to help them recover. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Center for Whale Research
In this Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, photo released by the Center for Whale Research, an orca, known as J35, foreground, swims with other orcas near Friday Harbor, Alaska. Researchers said J-35 an endangered killer whale that drew international attention as she carried her dead calf on her head for more than two weeks is finally back to feeding and frolicking with her pod. (Center for Whale Research via AP)
By PHUONG LE and GENE JOHNSON | The Associated Press
SEATTLE — Efforts to find a sick young orca from a critically endangered population of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest came up empty Thursday, and a scientist who tracks the animals declared her dead — though federal authorities said they’d keep looking.
The grim news means scientists believe just 74 whales remain in a group that has failed to reproduce successfully in the past three years. The orcas have struggled with pollution, boat noise and, most severely, a dearth of their preferred prey, chinook salmon, because of dams, habitat loss and overfishing.
“We’re watching a population marching toward extinction,” said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research. “Unless we do something about salmon recovery, we’re just not going to have these whales in the future.”
The whales are in such bad shape that experts prepared last-ditch efforts to save the emaciated nearly 4-year-old known as J50. A sharpshooting veterinarian fired an antibiotic-filled dart into her, crews dropped live salmon in front of her to try to get her to eat, and scientists even mulled capturing her so they could diagnose and treat her.
J50 has not been seen since last Friday. As teams scrambled to find her Thursday, she failed to appear with her pod once again, despite favorable sighting conditions. Balcomb, who tracks the whales for the U.S. government, declared her dead late Thursday afternoon.
Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said the agency gives great weight to Balcomb’s assessment of the whales, given his long experience monitoring them. But, he said the U.S. and Canadian governments plan to continue searching Friday on the chance she’s still alive.
“We want to make the most of it to make sure that if J50 is there, we haven’t missed her,” Milstein said. “We haven’t given up hope.”
Crews in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, 10 vessels, whale watch crews and other resources on both sides of the border were involved in the search. Authorities also alerted a network of people who respond when marine mammals wash ashore.
Whale experts feared the orca was dead earlier this month when J50 lagged behind her family and went missing. But she later turned up and was seen with her family.
The distinctive black-and-white orcas, known as southern resident killer whales, have struggled since they were listed as an endangered species in the U.S. and Canada well over a decade ago.
The orcas’ numbers are now at their lowest in more than three decades.
Another whale in the same pod, known as J35, triggered international sympathy this summer when she kept the body of her dead calf afloat in waters for more than two weeks.
The message, the Center for Whale Research said in a website post, is that extinction is looming “while the humans convene task forces and conference calls that result in nothing, or worse than nothing, diverting attention and resources from solving the underlying ecological problems.”
Scientist began to be concerned about J50 in July. Teams dropped live salmon from a boat as J50 and her pod swam behind — a test to see whether fish could be used as a means of delivering medication.
Drone images taken earlier this month showed J50 much thinner than she was last year. Her mother, J16, has also declined in condition in the past month.
ORLANDO: A planet-hunting orbital telescope designed to detect worlds beyond our solar system discovered two distant planets this week five months after its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, officials said on Thursday.
Nasa’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, better known as TESS, made an early discovery of “super-Earth” and “hot Earth” planets in solar systems at least 49 light-years away, marking the satellite´s first discovery since its April launch.
TESS is on a two-year, $337 million mission to expand astronomers´ known catalog of so-called exoplanets, worlds circling distant stars. While the two planets are too hot to support life, TESS Deputy Science Director Sara Seager expects many more such discoveries.
“We will have to wait and see what else TESS discovers,” Seager told Reuters. “We do know that planets are out there, littering the night sky, just waiting to be found. “TESS is designed to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel.
NASA expects to pinpoint thousands more previously unknown worlds, perhaps hundreds of them Earth-sized or “super-Earth” sized – no larger than twice as big as our home planet. Those are believed the most likely to feature rocky surfaces or oceans and are thus considered the best candidates for life to evolve. Scientists have said they hope TESS will ultimately help catalog at least 100 more rocky exoplanets for further study in what has become one of astronomy´s newest fields of exploration.
MIT researchers on Wednesday announced the discovery of Pi Mensae c, a “super-earth” planet 60 light-years away orbiting its sun every 6.3 days. The discovery of LHS 3844 b, a “hot-earth” planet 49 light-years away that orbits its sun every 11 hours, was announced on Thursday. Pi Mensae c could have a solid surface or be a water world as the composition of such planets is a mixed bag, Martin Spill, NASA´s program scientist for TESS, said in a phone interview. The two newest planets, which still need to be reviewed by other researchers, offer the chance for follow-up study, officials said.
“That, of course, is TESS´ entire purpose – to find those planets around those brightest nearby stars to do this really detailed characterization,” Spill said. With four special cameras, TESS uses a detection method called transit photometry, which looks for periodic dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them.
The Kounotori 7 spacecraft is launched by Japan’s H-IIB rocket. Liftoff took place at 17:52 GMT Sept. 22, 2018. Photo Credit: JAXA
Japan’s seventh cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan on Saturday. It’s mission? To send more than six metric tons of cargo, including supplies to for the crew, new batteries as well as various experiments.
HTV-7, or Kounotori 7 (Kounotori means “white stork” in Japanese), was launched atop an H-IIB rocket at 1:52 p.m. EDT Sept. 22 (17:52 GMT / 2:52 a.m. local time Sept. 23), 2018. The cargo vessel is scheduled to arrive at the ISS on Sept. 27.
The flight was initially targeted for a 6:32 p.m. EDT Sept. 10 (22:32 GMT / 7:32 a.m. local time Sept. 11) launch, however adverse weather, including strong winds caused by a typhoon near Guam, forced the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to put the launch on hold and to reschedule the liftoff. Guam hosts the main ground tracking station necessary to maintain communications between flight controllers and the launch vehicle.
HTV-7 at the Second Spacecraft Test and Assembly Building located at Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. Photo Credit: JAXA.
After another examination of the weather, the launch was rescheduled to 4:59 p.m. EDT Sept. 14 (20:59 GMT / 5:59 a.m. local time Sept. 15), but this time the flight was scrubbed about two hours before the ignition of the H-IIB’s engines because of an issue with the rocket’s propulsion system. This required a postponement of about a week to allow time for engineers to identify and solve the problem.
JAXA then set Sept. 21 EDT (Sept. 22 local time) as the new launch date and when it seemed that all the obstacles in the way of a successful liftoff were cleared, adverse weather once again forced the agency to delay the flight by another 24 hours.
Countdown and launch
Finally, the H-IIB was rolled out to the launch pad some 15 hours before the planned liftoff. After several hours of inspections and fueling, the countdown entered its terminal phase about an hour before ignition.
At around T-minus minutes, control of the mission was handed to computers and the launch vehicle was switched to internal power. Five seconds before liftoff, the rocket’s first stage ignited its two LE-7A engines. At T-minus zero, the quartet of A3 Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) came to life and the H-IIB began a short vertical ascent powered by six engines overall.
After completing its vertical ascent, the rocket performed a pitch and roll maneuver and turned southeast to line up with the 51.6-degree orbital inclination of the ISS.
The initial stage of the flight lasted nearly two minutes and concluded with the separation of the SRBs. With the quartet jettisoned, the H-IIB continued its mission powered by the core stage alone.
Payload fairing separation occurred nearly four minutes into flight and the core stage finished its job at about six minutes into flight.
Next, the second stage took control of the mission, igniting its single LE-5B engine to begin the task of inserting the HTV-7 craft into its initial orbit some 186 miles (300 kilometers) in altitude. The deployment of the spacecraft took place approximately 15 minutes after liftoff.
HTV-7 is now in the process of catching up with the International Space Station. It will take about five days to reach the station’s vicinity where it is expected to be captured around 7:54 a.m. EDT (11:54 GMT) Sept. 27 by the station’s 57.7-foot (17.6-meter) long robotic Canadarm2 that will be operated by two Expedition 56 astronauts, Drew Feustel and Serena Aunon-Chancellor of NASA.
The spacecraft is expected to be installed to the Earth-facing port of the station’s Harmony module. It will remain berthed to the ISS until mid-November 2018.
The Exposed Pallet with six lithium-ion batteries installed. Image Credit: JAXA
HTV-7 was presented to the media on July 28, 2018, during a press briefing at the Tanegashima Space Center. According to JAXA, the spacecraft is loaded with about 6.2 metric tons of supplies, fresh food, water, spare parts and experiments.
Developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the 23,100-pound (10,500-kilogram) HTV-7 spacecraft is about 33 feet (10 meters) long and 14.4 feet (4.4 meters) in diameter. The vessel consists of two logistic carriers—the Pressurized Logistics Carrier (PLC) and the Unpressurized Logistics Carrier (ULC), which also includes the Exposed Pallet, as well as an Avionics Module and a Propulsion Module.
The ULC of HTV-7 is occupied by six new battery Orbital Replacement Units (ORUs) consisting of new lithium-ion battery cells weighing some 1.9 metric tons. The ORUs are slated to replace the station’s current nickel-hydrogen batteries. HTV vessels are capable of delivering six ORUs at a time.
Two spacewalks are planned to replace the old nickel-hydrogen batteries with the new lithium-ion units. They were originally scheduled for September 20 and 26, but because of the delay of HTV-7’s arrival to ISS, they have been subsequently postponed. New dates for the EVAs are expected to be announced by NASA soon.
Besides crucial supplies for the astronauts aboard the station, the cargo of HTV-7’s PLC (about 4.3 metric tons) includes two EXpedite the PRocessing of Experiments for Space Station (EXPRESS) Racks, namely EXPRESS Rack 9B and 10B. These are multipurpose payload rack systems that store and support research aboard the space station and enable quick, simple integration of multiple payloads.
For JAXA, an essential payload inside the PLC is the HTV Small Re-entry Capsule (HSRC). This cone-shaped container, with dimensions of 2 feet by 2.7 feet (0.61 meters by 0.82 meters), is designed to demonstrate re-entry technology and cargo recovery from the space station. After the departure of the freighter from the outpost this fall, HSRC is expected to separate from the spacecraft’s hatch for a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of Japan and before being recovered.
The HTV Small Re-entry Capsule. Photo Credit: JAXA
The PLC also contains ESA’s Life Support Rack (LSR), which includes equipment for a demonstration test of an “effective life support system” that produces oxygen from water using electrolysis. Another payload is the Life Sciences Glovebox (LSG), which will be the second large-scale glovebox for scientific experiments on the ISS and is expected to be installed in the Kibo module.
Other payloads inside PLC include the Loop Heat Pipe Radiator (LHPR) technology demonstration system, the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) and three CubeSats named SPATIUM-I, RSP-00 and STARS-Me, which were developed jointly by universities in Japan and Singapore.
On the list of experiments being transported by HTV-7 are a new sample holder for the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (JAXA-ELF), a protein crystal growth experiment at low temperatures (JAXA LT PCG) and an investigation that looks at the effect of microgravity on bone marrow (MARROW).
The H-IIB rocket that was used for Saturday’s launch is a two-stage launch vehicle derived from the H-II rocket of the 1990s. Standing just slightly taller than both rockets in the H-II family at 183.7 feet (57 meters), it uses liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellant to power its two LE-7A first stage engines and single LE-5B second stage engine.
Additionally, four strap-on solid-fueled boosters are utilized for the first two minutes of flight. The rocket was designed to send Kounotori spacecraft into orbit and has been used exclusively for that purpose since its first launch in 2009 with HTV-1.
HTV-7 is Japan’s fifth orbital mission in 2018. The country’s next launch is slated for October 29, 2018, when an H-IIA rocket is planned to orbit several satellites, including CubeSats, for Japan and other countries.
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski’s generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.